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Cabinet recommends 5% Council Tax rise

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AT ITS meeting on Monday this week, the Council’s Cabinet decided to recommend a Council Tax rise of 5% for the next financial year.

If the Full Council meeting agrees with its suggestion at its meeting on February 27, the rise will add £1.04per week to the average Band D household Council Tax bill.

Band D is the marker used by Councils across Wales to represent the average home.

Opening budget discussion, Cabinet Member for Finance Cllr Bob Kilmister, praised the level of scrutiny by Council committees and public engagement. The Facebook Live webcasts were particularly successful, the second reaching a record audience for such an exercise. Cllr Kilmister reported one engagement event at Llanteg produced high-quality questions, which demonstrated how the public had engaged with the process and the issues behind the Council’s budget. Cllr Kilmister also expressed satisfaction about engagement with the trades unions, whose written budget submissions are included in the consultation report for the first time.

Discussing the proposed Council Tax rise, Cllr Kilmister said where scrutiny committees expressed a preference, it was for a 5% rise. That figure also received the most support from the public who engaged in the consultation process. The unions wanted a 10% rise to preserve frontline services and avoid staff cuts.

He outlined amendments to aspects of the budgets had been made following committee scrutiny. However, he also reported a potential £1m item of additional expenditure due to the closure of Asian markets to recycling from overseas. The pressure, Cllr Kilmister reported, was UK-wide and resulted from a global reduction in recycling capacity.

Bob Kilmister said he accepted one particular request for amendment, which came from the Council’s Policy Overview Committee and related to funding climate change initiatives, but difficulties existed about the funding commitment without specific projects to which it could be allocated.

Accordingly, the Cabinet approved an amendment to the budget statement resolving to provide sufficient funding necessary to enable progress to be made and will make full use of any external funding opportunities. Sufficient resourcing will include the consideration of suitable Capital Bids and feasibility funding in line with the Capital Programme managed by the Capital Board and if necessary, revenue resource in the coming financial year, if it is necessary to support the work of becoming a Net Zero Carbon County by 2030.

Bob Kilmister underlined the Council’s commitment and his commitment but said a considered approach was needed. He was adamant he would not agree to the diversion of resources from core services, such as education and adult social care. He said projects needed a clear business plan and had to show how benefits would accrue from capital investment and revenue use. Cllr Kilmister said he suspected extra money would come forward once the UK Government set the budget in March, possibly – although not certainly – through grants from the Welsh Government. He cautioned against depending on those grants.

The cost of adult social care and the budget for it was the subject of an impassioned intervention from Cllr Tessa Hodgson. Cllr Kilmister responded that ‘we are at a crisis point in adult social care’. Proposals for funding had to come from central government and come quickly. The current funding model for social care, he said, was not working; central government knew it didn’t work; had known it didn’t work for some time; had done nothing about it.

Making a political point at the end of the discussion, Cllr Paul Miller noted last year, when Pembrokeshire had a poor budget settlement, Conservatives had rushed to condemn the Welsh Government. He cynically observed this year, when Pembrokeshire had one of the best budget settlements, there hadn’t been a positive response to the announcement.

Council Leader David Simpson wound up the debate with some strong words about those of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees which refused to give the Cabinet a steer on its budget for the coming year. He reflected upon the lack of consultation before budgets under the previous administration where councillors were given information the day before cuts were due to place.

David Simpson said he was frustrated that Council committees and their members, presented with information, sat on their hands when offered the chance to input into the process of budget-setting positively. He made it clear that a steer given at the consultation stage was not a commitment to support the budget in the chamber but a response to the information given to the committee during its questioning of Cabinet members and officers about the coming year’s budget.

The Council Leader took time to single out Cllr Brian Hall for congratulations on seizing the chance as Chair of the Corporate Overview of Scrutiny Committee to give Cabinet a steer by asking members of his Committee to vote on a recommendation to give to Cabinet based on the information they had before them on the day they met. That was the sort of response the Cabinet wanted to help it set priorities for the budget.

Cllr Simpson said democracy was in a chamber of sixty people and not just to be doled out by Cabinet. The budget, he said, ‘is not a Cabinet decision’ and found councillors’ reluctance to participate when invited to do so ‘strange’.

‘That’s life!’ Cllr Simpson observed bitterly to close the discussion.

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First coronavirus (COVID-19) case confirmed in Wales

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THE FIRST coronavirus case confirmed in Wales, in a patient who had returned from Italy – taking total UK cases to 17.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, has confirmed that a patient in Wales has tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Dr Atherton said: “I can confirm that one patient in Wales has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

“All appropriate measures to provide care for the individual and to reduce the risk of transmission to others are being taken.

“I can also confirm that the patient had travelled back to Wales from Northern Italy, where the virus was contracted.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to assure the public that Wales and the whole of the UK is well prepared for these types of incidents. Working with our partners in Wales and the UK, we have implemented our planned response, with robust infection control measures in place to protect the health of the public.”

No further information is being released at this time to protect patient confidentiality.

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Monkton: Large fine for trader found illegally carrying scrap metal

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A PEMBROKESHIRE man pleaded guilty to illegally carrying scrap metal.

Edmund Thomas Paul Boswell, of Castle Quarry Road, Monkton, has been fined a total of £2,250 by Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Courts.

Boswell’s lorry was stopped in the Llawhaden area during a joint operation between Dyfed-Powys Police and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) on 21 June 2019.

The lorry was full of scrap metal loaded in a dangerous manner.

NRW officers carried out checks and found that Boswell was not a registered waste carrier.

He was given advice on how to register officially as a waste carrier with NRW and as a scrap metal dealer with Pembrokeshire County Council, but failed to do so and was summonsed to court.

He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay NRW and legal costs bringing the total to £2,250.

Gavin Bown, South West Operations Manager, of NRW, said: “Mr Boswell refused to cooperate and become a registered waste carrier.

“We’re taking a tough stance against waste crime and illegal operators. Waste crime puts people and the environment at risk and undermines legitimate businesses and the investment and economic growth that go with it.
“Waste regulation is necessary to make sure every effort is made to eliminate or reduce waste, prevent pollution and protect people, nature and the environment from hazards.”

Anyone who transports waste as part of their business needs to be registered as a waste carrier.

Those who arrange for waste from other businesses or organisations to be transported, disposed of, or recovered, need to be registered as a waste broker.

Anyone who buys or sells waste, or uses an agent to do so, needs to be registered as a waste dealer.

Gavin Bown added: “I would encourage people to report any concerns they may have about illegal waste carriers operating in their area to NRW on 0300 065 3000. All reports are confidential and the incident line is open 24 hours a day.”

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Haverfordwest High School ski trip updated statement

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Haverfordwest High VC School is closed for a pre-arranged Inset day today (Wednesday, 26th February) for staff training.

The school is intending to re-open tomorrow (Thursday) in line with guidance from Public Health Wales.

The family of two pupils who went on a family trip to Northern Italy over half-term have also sought advice from Public Health Wales. Although the family visited the region of Veneto, they did not visit the quarantined town of Vo. The advice for them is the same as for other people who have visited Northern Italy – that they do not need to self-isolate unless they have symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath or fever. Neither of the pupils have presented any symptoms.

To view the statement released by the school yesterday (Tuesday), please visit https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/newsroom/haverfordwest-high-school-ski-trip-statement

* For the latest advice on coronavirus, please visit the Public Health Wales website at https://phw.nhs.wales/news/public-health-wales-statement-on-novel-coronavirus-outbreak-in-china/

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